Japan is working closely with the International Olympic Committee to prepare for the Games. Despite concerns about the flare-up of Covid-19 cases, there are no plans to postpone it, the Japanese minister in charge of vaccinations said.
“Unless you choose otherwise, all we have to do is prepare for the games and control the situation. I think that changes almost every day, so you have to be prepared. But I don’t think you think about it postpone it, “Taro Kono told CNBC’s Martin Soong on Wednesday.
The Olympic torch was removed from Osaka’s public streets on Wednesday as the prefecture declared a state of emergency after coronavirus cases hit record highs.
“Yes, the situation in Osaka is particularly worrying,” said Kono, who is also the Minister for Regulatory Reforms. A new variant of the virus, similar to the one first discovered in the UK, is “spreading quickly” in Osaka, he added.
“We saw a similar mutation in Tokyo, so we fear Tokyo could follow Osaka in a couple of weeks. So we really need to pay attention to the situation,” he said.
A man wearing a face mask stands behind the Olympic symbols of the five nested rings depicted near the National Stadium in Tokyo.
James Matsumoto, SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images
Osaka’s population is much smaller than Tokyo’s, but the city reported 878 new cases on April 7, compared with 555 in Tokyo on the same day.
The Summer Olympics officially begin in Tokyo on July 23, just over 100 days away. They were delayed last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Nevertheless, the games will be scaled back sharply compared to previous years, as international viewers have been banned from entry due to concerns about Covid-19.
“Well, unfortunately we may not have that many people watching the game in the stadium, but most people will still see it on TV,” said Kono.
Delays in introducing vaccines in Japan
Japan is expected to start vaccinating the country’s seniors starting Monday and move into the next phase of its vaccine rollout, hampered by delays in vaccine delivery.
Kono says less than 1% of the population has been vaccinated so far – but he hopes vaccinations will be in full swing by mid-May when vaccines arrive from the European Union.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to develop a vaccine domestically and we have to rely on importing the vaccine from the EU,” said Kono. “Right now we have the Pfizer vaccine approved and it will start next Monday for the seniors.”
He said the vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca will be “very important” as it is made in Japan, which would cut some negotiations.
His interview took place hours before drug regulators in the EU and the UK announced on Wednesday that there may be a link between the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine and rare blood clotting problems. However, both regulators indicated that the vaccine’s benefits still outweigh the risks.
My job is to bring the vaccine from Europe to Japan and have as many people as possible vaccinated.
Japan’s vaccination minister
“The biggest problem for me is going through the EU’s transparency mechanism,” said Kono, referring to a measure that allows the member states of the European Union to impose restrictions on vaccine exports.
“If we have (a) domestic vaccine or a domestically manufactured vaccine … more than half of my headaches would be gone,” he said.
When asked if his handling of the Japanese coronavirus outbreak could affect his chances for the next prime minister, Kono declined.
“My job is to get the vaccine from Europe to Japan and get as many people as possible vaccinated,” he said. “You don’t have to think about the Prime Ministery. You just have to do your job to protect (lives) the people.”
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